In this episode of Beyond Consulting, sponsored by ECA Partners, we welcome Cindy Karas Sherman, a former PwC consultant and current Senior Director of Marketing, Insights and Innovation at Frieda’s Branded Produce. Cindy joins us to share how she went from “real life Rachel Green at Bloomingdales” to a marketing leader for a major CPG brand.
The Beyond Consulting Podcast is hosted by Ken Kanara and co-hosted by Steven Haug. Ken leads this week’s episode.
Ken Kanara: I’m Ken Kanara and you’re listening to Beyond Consulting. Today we welcome Cindy Karas Sherman to the studio. Cindy is the Senior Director of Marketing, Insights and Innovation at Frieda’s. She’s also a former management consultant at PwC and a real life Rachel Green from Friends, but we’ll get into that in a bit. First, I just want to remind everybody who is listening that we are brought to you by ECA Partners, a project staffing and executive search firm focused on former management consultants, and say thank you so much for tuning in. Cindy, thanks so much for joining us.
Cindy Karas Sherman: It’s fun to be here, and thanks for having me.
Ken Kanara: You bet. Well, Cindy, could you start off by taking a little trip down memory lane and telling us a bit about yourself in terms of your background and how you got into consulting to begin with?
Cindy Karas Sherman: Sure. I’m from the East Coast. I went to school in New Jersey, at Rutgers, and I kept it real and went to a state school. It’s really funny because, I remember going to a job fair and they brought in potential employers, and you went from booth to booth, and there were these consulting firms there. I was an undergrad business major, in marketing, but I really had no idea what these consulting firms did. I really had no idea. People would try to explain it to me and they would say, “It has something to do with Y2K,” which was a big thing at the time. I’m dating myself, but I really didn’t get what they do, but fine, whatever, and I parked that aside. I was recruited right from Rutgers to go to Bloomingdale’s, so that’s where the “Real Life Rachel Green” came in. I went to the Bloomingdale’s and they had a buyer training program. It was amazing. I remember going to orientation, I was the third orientation of the summer, maybe I started in September or something, they had already had two other classes start, and there were 20 to 30 people, mostly women in the training class. They said, “There are 20-30 of you here, we’ve done three of these, so we’ve just started 60 to 90 assistant buyers. Look around because only one in three will be here in a year.
Ken Kanara: Oh, wow.
Cindy Karas Sherman: I know, right?! I was like, “Oh my God!”
Ken Kanara: That’s reassuring.
Cindy Karas Sherman: I feel like right now that’s out of succession, or something. We’re watching this new show called Industry, I’ll give that a plug. I feel like it’s right out of Industry, it’s like an investment banking training program, but I started there and it was a whirlwind. I remember that it took a while to get my feet under me and really understand what I was doing, but once I got it, like every job I’ve ever had since, once it clicked, it clicked. It’s like climbing up the hill and it’s steep…have you ever been on a log flume or a roller coaster? We’re going to Knott’s Berry Farm on Monday so maybe that’s just on my brain but…you’re like, “Oh my God, this is so steep…” and then, for me, it just flattens out really quickly. I always go from feeling overwhelmed to “Alright, what’s next? I’m bored.” It was the typical for me and the first six months were like, “Oh my goodness,” but then it flattened out and I got much more comfortable. I worked in sheets and comforters and that’s where “Real Life Rachel Green” came from.
A funny anecdote is, I had a summer intern, her name was Annie and she interned for us and she reported in to me and she was dating Tate Donovan’s brother, and at the time Tate Donovan was dating Jennifer Aniston. This is all in New York City, so she comes in on a Monday and I said, “What did you this weekend?” She’s like, “Well my boyfriend and I had dinner with his brother and his girlfriend,” and I was like, “Oh.” And she was like, “You know, the brother is Tate Donovan and the girlfriend is Jennifer Aniston.” Apparently, when Annie told Jennifer Aniston what she was doing, Jennifer Aniston, i.e. Rachel, laughed. She was like, “Oh my God,” because that was right at the time that Rachel Green, that character, was in the buyer training program at Bloomingdale’s. That was a very long way of saying that it was a very funny story and a very funny coincidence.
Ken Kanara: That is a really cool coincidence. For those of us that don’t know, me included, what does a buyer at a Bloomingdale’s, someone that’s part of a training program like that do?
Cindy Karas Sherman: Great question. One of the things that’s really drawing similarities across my career is a buyer is the hub of the wheel. Let’s say I was the buyer in the sheets category, like bedding sheets, I was really the hub of the wheel. Together with my boss (manager), we were figuring out what sheets we wanted to carry in our assortment, which stores we’re going to have which assortments based on the demographics, psychographics, and spending behavior of their shoppers. Then, you’re allocating that and figuring out how much you’re going to buy. This has probably changed in recent years. I feel like the buyers do a lot more of the item selection and they have other teams of people who are much more analytical that are probably doing the “How much for each store?,” but at the time, that was part of our role. We were figuring out how much for each store and then figuring out how and when you’re going to promote it, how deep you’re going to go on price, and Bloomingdale’s will send out their catalogs, so we had to decide what we were going to feature in which catalog, what was going to be part of which promotion, and which style.
Ultimately, you are responsible for sales margin and turns on your category. I don’t remember how big the category was, a couple million, whatever it was. But we were responsible, similar to what I later would inherit in CPG is, you’re responsible for the financials of category, and you’re responsible for doing whatever it takes those financials.
Ken Kanara: Interesting, because my cursory understanding, which is probably from Friends, is basically that you get to decide what we’re going to buy and it’s more of a creative role, as opposed to a super analytical one, which, this sounds like you’re basically managing a pretty big spend category and the associated margins as it relates to the different channels.
Cindy Karas Sherman: You know, it’s so funny that’s probably what I thought when they gave me the job. I probably thought, “I have such amazing taste. I’m just going to tell the American public like what they should have,” right? What did I know? I was 22. No, truly, somebody up the food maybe chain did that, but it was not as glamorous as it sounds. I remember Bloomingdale’s had this warehouse out in Long Island City which, now is very trendy, but then was a real blackhole and the assistant buyers would have to go out there and sort through all the return to merchandise.
Ken Kanara: Oh, interesting.
Cindy Karas Sherman: So, think about all the sheets that people buy, use and then return, and I’d have to sort…talk about not glamorous…There I am, sorting through it to figure out what gets returned to the vendor that we can get credit for, what is perfectly fine and should get repackaged. I’ve got a scanner and I’m looking up in a big book (back then) what the UPC was. I’m printing out UPC labels, retagging them. Talk about not glamorous.
Ken Kanara: Rachel Green did not do this…
Cindy Karas Sherman: Here I thought I’d be the tastemaker for America’s bedding…not so much. There is definitely a part of it where, you go to market, they call it go to market, the vendors show you what’s new for this season, you have say, and you partner with your vendors, like anything else. They’re like, “Hey, this is a really big collection for us…” And you’re like, “I’m not feeling it,” and they’re like, “But it’s really important. Will you go out on the limb for us here?” So you’re like, “Okay, we will. We’ll bring this in so you can test it, but we also need you to do this: I’m going to need mark down money for this, I need your help moving through this problem that we all created last year with this slow moving dust ruffle.
It’s funny…in bedding–this is actually a lesson that has stayed with me throughout my career–we would buy the sheets, duvet covers, toss pillows, euro shams and pillow shams, and dust ruffles, and no matter what, your collections would get broken. People would buy the duvets, they would buy the standard shams, the king shams, and by the time the collection was all said and done, all you would have left are euro shams and dust ruffles. Euro shams and dust ruffles that were once very expensive. $500 things you’re marking down to like, $9.99, because you just want to get it out of your inventory because it’s aged inventory.
Honestly that stays with me with other lessons I learned in my career. I will say, “Oh, we just have the dust ruffles left,” and people are like, “What does that mean? What do you mean we just have the dust ruffles left?” It basically means we made a commitment to some larger program and as a remnant we just have a couple slow moving items left that don’t really partner or pair with anything, but we have to work them out of our inventory, and figure out how are we going to do that? Dust ruffles continue to be a good lesson learned.
Ken Kanara: I will definitely remember that.
Cindy Karas Sherman: There was a little glamour to the job. We’d get to go to some dinners and meet designers. Calvin Klein launched their bedding line while I was there and I got to go to their showroom, go to some dinners and meet their designers. When you’re in New York City, you’re 22, and you’re being invited to these really, really fancy restaurants where I was like, “Is there steak on the menu? Is there broccoli on the menu? Because I don’t know what anything else is here!”
Ken Kanara: Can I bring some home?
Cindy Karas Sherman: Then you’re like, this dinner costs more than I’m going to make in an entire week…
Ken Kanara: Oh, I know, wasn’t that odd? When you were in your 20s going to restaurants that I wouldn’t even go to now? That’s really cool. Thanks for the education on buyers. I’ve always heard about it and I assumed that it was more glamour, but that’s helpful. Then you went from buying to consulting, right?
Cindy Karas Sherman: Yes. The key things here are, as a buyer you are the hub of the wheel, and that we’ll pick up later on. The other thread I wanted to pick up was going to those career fairs and being like, “I don’t understand what these consultants do.” Well, then I moved to New York and I started making lots of friends and many of them were consultants, i.e., people who could afford to live in New York at the time, and I was like, “What do you all really do?” It there’s a lot of IT, but I had a friend who worked at Pricewaterhouse and she explained to me that they have different parts of their practice. Yes, there was an IT part of the practice, but let’s say there was also an operation supply chain part of the practice, and there was a strategy part of the practice. They had different industry verticals, if you will, and so it was all about the different kinds of practices and then the different kinds of industries. One of their industries that they focused on was retail and CPG, so she was like, “You know, we’re always growing, we’re always looking for consultants, do you want me to throw your name in the hat?” Around the same time I started having a lot of conversations with my boss’s boss. I would always look forward to, as a little baby assistant buyer, loved when my manager went on vacations because then I got to work directly with her manager and show her what I could really do.
Ken Kanara: Of course, flying close to the sun.
Cindy Karas Sherman: She and I would have these long talks and she said to me one day, “I feel like you expect too much from your job.” Yes, she was right, I did. I was straight out of college, I wanted to conquer the world. I felt like I had so much to learn and so much to offer and I was so hungry, and she was right. I did need a job that expected more from me and that for me to stay at Bloomingdale’s was a little bit more settling, not that it dynamic, not that there wasn’t a lot to learn, but I wanted to be all in. I wanted to stay up all night, I wanted to be flown all over the country. Work was my life at that point and it was a good time for work to be my life because right now, with kids, I wouldn’t be able to do that quite so much.
So the friend who had talked about the consulting took resume and the next thing I knew I got a phone call and they interviewed me. I started meeting with members of the team and I was like, “Wow, I never really understood what this was, but now I am getting a better sense that there are different types of consulting, and I would come into this role using my retail knowledge, and how important industry expertise is versus hiring a lot of people right out of school, but to hire people who’ve worked in the industry and can bring that perspective. Even at the junior level was really, really useful to them.
I’ll never forget the day I got the offer. Again, I’m dating myself, but I remember I got a call from the recruiter and I was supposed to talk to somebody else with one more interview, then that person cancelled. The recruiter was like, “You know what, don’t worry about it. We’re actually going to package you up an offer right now. I’m going to put it in the mail today and I’ll send it overnight. You should have it tomorrow.” This is all in New York City, and I called her back and said, “Hey, I just got your message. I have a meeting a couple blocks from your office so I’ll just swing by and pick it up.” Which was so not true, but I didn’t even want to wait the day. I couldn’t even wait. I was so excited, so I jump on the subway, run over to 6th Avenue, pick up the FedEx, come back to my office. I called her and I was like, “I accept.” I didn’t negotiate anything, but part of it was really funny. In retail, stores are open the day after Thanksgiving and the day after Thanksgiving even when you work in the buying office you’re expected to go into the stores and work in the stores. I was 23, I just wanted the day after Thanksgiving off so I could hang out my high school friends at a bar, right?
Ken Kanara: Naturally, that is the best day to do that.
Cindy Karas Sherman: I was like, I need to resign with two weeks before Thanksgiving so I won’t have to work this extra day in the stores and you know not spend a full Thanksgiving holiday at home. That was the main reason I didn’t negotiate that offer. In retrospect, I probably should have, but that is how I landed in consulting.
Ken Kanara: That’s awesome and I think that’s a really cool story because who negotiates their first offer? I remember I was just like, “Someone’s going to hire me, really?”
Cindy Karas Sherman: “You want to give me your money? Okay, fine.”
Ken Kanara: “You trust me in front of your clients? Okay, cool. Where do I sign?” That’s awesome. That’s really cool. So then you’re PwC–
Cindy Karas Sherman: –at the time, Pricewaterhouse was merging with Coopers, so that happened just as I was joining. Now I was joining the “big guy.”
Ken Kanara: Okay. Then you joined the retail practice and how long were you there, what kind of projects did you do? What was that experience like?
Cindy Karas Sherman: Nothing prepared me for–and the world maybe has changed, maybe has not, I’ll be curious to see what your listeners say in the comments and in the chat–but nothing prepared me. I was all geared up, I buy my suits, I get all ready, I’m ready to go, and I’m used to working hard. I get there…to sit on the bench. I’m guessing that’s still an expression, right?
Ken Kanara: It is, yeah. It definitely is.
Cindy Karas Sherman: Sit on the bench. It was like, “Nope. You’re not staffed.” I was like, “What am I supposed to do?” They’re like, “Well, you don’t actually have to come into work if you don’t want to. You could be at home.” I couldn’t understand. Why wouldn’t I come into work? Now I’m like, that sounds amazing. So I would come into work every day and they gave me internal practice development-type projects and I’d work on them, but it was still weird.
I remember I started right after Thanksgiving, and it was the holidays, it was so quiet, and I was like, “What am I doing here?” Luckily, there was one other person in the same boat. Her name was Amy Miller, now Amy Thompson, and she’s still one of my very best friends to this day. We were just, I don’t know…we hung out, we worked on practice development projects together. She helped immerse me, she helped show me the ropes, and different online trainings and things like that, that I was able to do and get myself all set up. It was really fun and she is still a really good friend of mine.
Then, from there, I remember there was something that was one of those projects where they were already over on hours, but I basically found a mentor. I found this woman, Kari LePage, she’s amazing and one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. She was managing a project, I know they were already over on hours, and she was like, “I have some work that I could really use your help with and I’m not going to be able to let you bill against this, but I’m not supposed to do that…,” and I was like, “I don’t care, I just want to do anything,” and so I started helping her. It was about me learning! It was practice.
Then I remember it was over New Year’s weekend and they were getting ready for a big client meeting in the beginning of January. This was before cell phones and I’m like, “Look, here’s my home number. Call me if you need me.” One day, between Christmas and New Year’s, and she calls me and she said, “Can you come in?” I was so excited! Someone needs me! So I go running into the office, and then the door was locked.
I had to actually sit outside and wait there for like 2 hours. Back then, there were no cell phones. I remember I had to wait for someone to open the door and I couldn’t even get in. She’s like, “Oh there you are!” I was like, “The door was locked and I had to wait for security to come in because security’s off because it’s the Sunday before whatever…” So I worked on that project and I helped out and that helped give me good street cred. They knew, this girl is hungry, she’s willing to do whatever it takes, she’s smart, tell her what to do and she’ll run with it. Then from there, I got staffed on a number of projects over the course of that first couple years and I probably starting on some of the specialty retailer stuff. I wound up working on a lot of grocery retailers, so for a grocery retailer, it was called A&P. It’s now part of Ahold, basically.
Then I did a big project for the military. The military has the Air Force, the Marine Corps, and the Navy and they all operate exchanges on the base retail operations and they all have their own buying offices, so the idea was merging all of that and looking at the efficiencies of that. I was on that project for a long time. I did a ton of work for Nine West, which was a footwear retailer up in Westchester. That was a lot of fun.
Ken Kanara: Oh, I always wondered why it was called Nine West.
Cindy Karas Sherman: Yes, they had their own retail stores, so that was a big store operations project on how to be more efficient in operating their stores. I did a lot of different projects and some other things in there, I did a project for Nielsen, the data collection folks, so just a number of different projects over a period of several years and lots of different things.
I learned really quickly to align yourself with a few good senior people. There was a woman by the name of Diane Hamilton who would always staff me, and this woman, Kari. So just find your mentors and help them–whatever it takes. I didn’t care, because what else did I have to do? I had no other obligations. Just do whatever it takes to help them and be indispensable to them and they will always staff you on their projects.
Ken Kanara: That is such a good piece of advice. It’s so important to network, internally at consulting firms, and make yourself known as an indispensable resource. Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t known as that, but I survived. That’s cool. In total, you ended up staying in consulting around three years, right?
Cindy Karas Sherman: That sounds about right.
Ken Kanara: Then what got you to leave?
Cindy Karas Sherman: Well, I went to business school, because those big consulting firms pretty much breed you to go to business school. All my mentors were like, “Are you thinking about applying to business school? Can I write your recommendation letters?” They’re nudging you. They’re like, “Even if you want to stay, an MBA will be helpful. Go to business school, have that experience and if you choose to come back, then come back.” I loved that it was a safe space. I remember working on my applications in the office, on the weekend, because I needed to use the printer.
Ken Kanara: Oh, wow. Again, before you filed your applications online, but it was a very supportive environment for continuing my education and I really appreciated that. I also felt like, “Okay, if the economy ever goes south,” which it wound up doing a year later in 2000…I could be a consultant and I could go back to a retailer and be a buyer. With a couple years here under my belt, what else am I really qualified to do? I felt like I wanted to expand my options and I wanted to go have fun.
Ken Kanara: Nothing wrong with that.
Cindy Karas Sherman: You know, I was single, and I had spent my whole life on the East Coast and I was looking to go to school somewhere else, somewhere different, and have a different experience and broaden my horizons.
Ken Kanara: That’s a great reason to go to business school. All the above.
Cindy Karas Sherman: I went to Berkley, Haas. I cannot say enough about their program and it has grown leaps and bounds since I was there. I remember that one of the things I learned in consulting, especially when I was on that project for A&P, I loved my team. We were an amazing team. I’ll never forget, we started out at A&P with a whole wing of offices and slowly but surely they hired people who needed to sit in the offices and so they consolidated us. In the end, there were 20 of us in this one room, but it was 20 of the smartest, most fun people you could ever imagine. We were working all the time and I couldn’t care less. Some of the best professional memories are from that room and some of my biggest professional accomplishments were in that room. Everyone used to call us the A-Team, joking, as in A&P, but we were the A-Team. That is where I learned that when you have an amazing team, the sum is so much greater than the individual parts. When you have an amazing team with a great leader, you are unstoppable and you really can’t do anything. I very much wanted that in business school. I didn’t want to go to business school somewhere where people are climbing over the bodies to get to the top, I wanted to go somewhere with more of a team environment and where you’re going to succeed but we’re all going to succeed together and not at somebody’s expense. That is Haas to a “T.”
Ken Kanara: Interesting. Obviously all different businesses have their claim to fame, and it’s something that we actually haven’t really gotten into in this show, but what about Haas makes you say that to this day? Could you give an example, because I don’t even know what that’s like because I never went to business school, actually.
Cindy Karas Sherman: It’s so funny because I just went back for my 20 year reunion, and I’ve been back for pretty much every reunion, but I don’t know why it felt like a really long time between the 15 year reunion at the 20. Probably because we had a huge life changes and because of COVID, those just felt like five long years. The warm and fuzzies that I felt stepping back on that campus and sitting in a lecture, I just cannot even…I had such a visceral reaction in a good way. I just felt it in my whole body. I just like felt it. I just felt like I was back in it.
Ken Kanara: Energized?
Cindy Karas Sherman: Yes, yes. The adrenaline flowing, and the energy just coming out of every finger and every toe. For me, it’s part of being something amazing. It’s the same energy that I got from being on the A-Team. It’s like, “Oh my God, I am so lucky to be with these people. I’m so lucky to be one of them. On my own, I could never do this, but with them, I feel like I’m part of something so much bigger.” I feel like it’s just a real collaborative spirit and it’s a real, “We have each other’s backs,” and “Hey, I’m really good at marketing, I’ll help you with marketing.” I remember feeling way over my head in some of the analytical coursework. There was this operations class where we were building models, and I know how to do that, but it still did me in a little bit, or finance and running some of the financial stuff, I remember people being like “Hey, I’m good at this. Let me help you and you can help me with this. It was just this feeling like it wasn’t competition, it was building. It’s a spirit of building and collaboration.
Even Berkeley, as I sit here at my desk, I have this little card that they gave me at the reunion. It says, “Berkeley Haas–Defining Leadership Principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself.” It’s interesting, I had a call with a coach of mine and we were talking about not knowing the answer, what do you do, and how do you feel when you’re in a room and presenting something to a high level audience and you don’t have the answers and he’s like, “Do you show up at school knowing all the answers?” No. He’s like, “Well, business doesn’t need to be any different. It’s okay to say you don’t know the answer and it’s okay to approach something as a journey versus getting defensive if you don’t know something. He said that, then I got this card and it’s like, “Yeah, students always.” That’s what makes you better is a continuous journey of knowledge. I feel like that is very much what Haas was all about.
Ken Kanara: Thanks for sharing that, especially the “confidence without attitude piece.”
Cindy Karas Sherman: I love that.
Ken Kanara: We’ve talked a few times and it’s something that I genuinely feel as I talk to you, which is really cool. Call it vulnerability, call it a million different things, but I think it’s so important, especially for a leader like yourself, because then you become accessible, right? The worst thing you can do as a leader with a big team is, sure, you can know your subject matter inside and out, but if the people that work with you and for you can’t come to you because they’re intimidated, then it’s worthless. That’s really cool. I didn’t realize that was part of their slogan, “Confidence Without Attitude…” That’s really cool.
Cindy Karas Sherman: It’s one of their defining principles. Haas was a really good fit and a really nice continuation of my A-Team from consulting.
Ken Kanara: That’s Haas, and then you went to Unilever, right?
Cindy Karas Sherman: Yes, so while I was at Haas, I think one of the executives at Unilever had gone to Haas, and somebody had gone there for undergrad, and somebody had gone there for business school, and they liked to take one intern from Haas. They came through the Marketing Club at Haas to recruit. They were on the East Coast, I was from New York, they were in Greenwich CT, I, at the time, had a fiancé back on the East Coast, so it just made a ton of sense too. I was like, “Oh my God, me, me, me!” When I went home for Winter Break, I went up there and met with them and interviewed, got the offer and I did my summer internship there. I wound up getting an offer to go back time by the end of my summer. I came back, did my second year at Haas. I did do a semester abroad in London, which is amazing, at London Business School, and then landed back at Unilever full time when I graduated being the Assistant Brand Manager on Whisk laundry detergent–another one…talk about glamour!
Ken Kanara: Yeah, but such a big product, too, right? That was a big deal.
Cindy Karas Sherman: Well, laundry detergent is big. Whisk was not so big. Whisk had had its heyday in, call it the 80s…
Ken Kanara: Oh, really? Because I remember…well I don’t buy laundry detergent now, I guess I do–my wife does, but I remember Whisk vividly. Is it not around anymore?
Cindy Karas Sherman: It was an East Coast this and they had commercials like, “Whisk gets ring around the collar and your whole wash clean.” What’s fun about Whisk…I lived in New York City, I didn’t even do my laundry. I didn’t even have a laundry machine in my apartment. I was like, “here I am working on laundry…” What I learned is that I can get excited about anything. Laundry detergent, is that that exciting? No, but our brand positioning stood for, “Whisk will take care of the dirt and stains that come with playing, like kids playing. Kids playing is a normal, fundamental, healthy part of their growth and development. Don’t you worry. You let your kids play and develop and bloom into adults. We will take care of the dirt and stains that come with that so you can just let them be their best selves and that was our positioning. I was like, “Yeah! like I don’t work on laundry detergent I work on empowerment of children!” I’ve learned that it’s not what you work on, it’s how you think about it.
Ken Kanara: Oh, absolutely. There’s some sort of saying where…the janitor at a hospital, it’s like, “No, I’m saving lives, right?
For what it’s worth, I can still remember the commercials with the grass stains on the pants and I know exactly what you’re talking about. That’s really cool. Okay, so you were a brand manager and then you went to Pepsi, then you went to Wrigley. Can you talk a little bit about some of the other, very notable brands you’ve been part of.
Cindy Karas Sherman: What I learned pretty quickly at Unilever is that it wasn’t that different from what I had done at Bloomingdale’s in that I was the hub of the wheel. In brand management, you own the brand, you own the P&L, you own the sales number, you own the profit number, you own how much marketing you’re going to spend to get there. It was different in that, when you’re a retailer thinking about the retail piece of it, here you’re thinking about selling to a consumer shopper, now it’s that I have to sell it into a buyer. The buyer of Kroger, Walmart, Target, and then create pull. You push to get it on the shelf, and then create pull to get it off the shelf and get consumers to want to know about it, increase awareness, trial, repeat, frequency, all that stuff.
What I learned is that it was still the same principle as I was sitting at the hub of the wheel. I felt like it felt familiar, and it felt right, based on what I had previously done, but it was a nice merger of there were a lot more PowerPoint decks than there had ever been.
Ken Kanara: Oh, really?
Cindy Karas Sherman: I don’t think I ever opened PowerPoint when I was in retail. I was like, “Okay, consulting prepared me for this.”
Ken Kanara: Oh, wow.
Cindy Karas Sherman Even when I did my summer internship, my final presentation, I remember I built a little model. I built a model because that’s what we used to do in consulting. There was a model–a framework, sorry. A framework is probably a better word.
Ken Kanara: It answers everything, right?
Cindy Karas Sherman: A framework, right?! Then I built that framework and I took a framework I had from consulting, I adapted it to the project and created and showed them how I was thinking about the framework. On every page of the deck, I’d highlight a different part of the framework so you know what part of the framework we were on…I feel like people who came from other walks of life did not have that type of preparation and we’re not able to like use that 30,000 foot view that consulting helped me develop and then drill down. Going into brand management, I felt like everything I had done in my career, had really led up to that.
I also realized pretty quickly that I had a passion for innovation and new products. Within brand management, I loved the notion of brand equity. I loved thinking about what does a brand stand for and how do we bring that to life, and what are the consumer insights that underpin that positioning? I still love that, to this day. I love thinking about that. I’m just really a brand strategist at heart, and then love thinking about what are the unmet needs that those consumers have and how can we fulfill those unmet needs via innovation? Early on, I realized that I was very much an innovator and I loved coming up with ideas for new products, doing all the strategy work around that, bringing the graphics to life, bringing the ad campaigns to life, and what was it going to smell like, what was it going to taste like, what was it going to feel like, what was the packaging going to be, and really crafting and I loved the arts and crafts of crafting the whole proposition and bringing it together and then testing it and seeing if consumers liked it as much as I did.
Ken Kanara: Okay, when you say brand equity, for a layperson like myself, what I immediately think of is the movie, What Women Want and he’s trying to get inside the house…
Cindy Karas Sherman: When he puts on the pantyhose in the bathroom?
Ken Kanara: Yes, or the Nike thing…am I thinking about that right? Is it that you’re trying to get in the mind of consumers?
Cindy Karas Sherman: Exactly. When I say brand equity, in brand there’s a fairly common tool that is called a Brand Pyramid. What lives at the very top triangle, think Maslow’s hierarchy, is your brand essence, and that’s a short little statement of “What does this brand stand for?” To me, I could pontificate that all day and have the time of my life.
The way you get to that is, I call it–and this is what I learned at Unilever–you start with the consumer and go 360 degrees around them. When we’re innovating, and I remember working on an anti-aging project–skin care, face creams for Dove, after Whisk I moved on to Dove, and talking to women who are getting older. They were probably the age I am now, and talking to them, talking to their husbands, talking to their kids, talking to their hairstylists, talking to their doctors, about the concerns that these women have and what are some of the workarounds that they start to use as they get older to feel and look like their youngest self, to really try and understand what the compensating behaviors are and therefore what could the unmet needs be and what’s the tone that we need to use when we speak to them to be speaking to them and not at them. I did all of that consumer research, very much like the movie, What Women Want, and then from that, really saying, “This is what our brand stands for, here are our innovation platforms, and briefing the ad agency on that. They’re going to come up with the tagline and the creative, but it all starts with what are the underpinning consumer insights.
Ken Kanara: Interesting. Okay, got it. When you’re in that brand strategist role, how much of your time is spent on that formulation versus actually executing?
Cindy Karas Sherman: Oh, such a good question. So here I am, a baby right out of business school. It’s not that different from the parallel we’ve drawn about going to Bloomingdale’s and thinking, “I’m going to be the tastemaker of America.” No, you get there and every month your IRI data is going to update. I’m guessing your audience is somewhat familiar, but that’s syndicated data where you see how well you’re selling in the grocery store. When you’re an ABM, you come in Monday morning at like 6:00 AM, the data refreshes, and you literally spend the next four weeks analyzing that data. Then it refreshes again. And when you’re not doing that, in your spare time, you’re managing some kind of project like, “Hey, we’re going to do a special on pack,” so for us to remember it was like we were attaching socks to the laundry detergent bottles for some type of on pack for Walmart or Target or something like that, so you’re managing really sexy projects like that. It’s really more as you move up the line, as you have other people who come in to do that more executional, analytical work, and as you get to think more about what is the brand, what is it going to stand for, and that’s when you start doing that more fun stuff–the strategic stuff. At the lower level, lower level is not the best word, but it’s the more entry level in there, you’re doing the analytical work and the grunt work in the project management, but hopefully you’ve got a great boss. Hopefully that manager is bringing you to every meeting where these big things are being discussed. You’re not talking, you’re not presenting, but you’re a fly on the wall, you’re hearing the conversations, and you’re learning from it.
I will never forget my boss, Marie Chan at Unilever, talking about how Whisk was not “dirt for dirt’s sake,” Whisk was about “dirt for learning’s sake,” and that we need to be very clear that in advertisements, when we were showing situations where people were getting dirty, it couldn’t be getting dirty just for the heck of it. There had to be some type of payoff. So you slide into home base, it’s a science fair, or something, but there is some type of payoff. You are now a better person because you’ve interacted with the dirt, if you will, versus, “I’m Peppa Pig and I splashed around in a muddy puddle.” Although now I think things have changed and you’d say, even just splashing around in a muddy puddle has emotional payoffs for it, but this is probably before things were quite that involved.
Ken Kanara: But that’s an important nuance, and it is funny because I can literally think about the ads that I saw, now I’m dating myself, they were at science fairs, and you saw kids holding a dirty frog, I don’t know, but it stuck with me.
Cindy Karas Sherman: That’s probably why, it was science related. You were learning, you were growing.
Ken Kanara: Yes, that’s really cool.
Cindy Karas Sherman: That was Unilever, and then I jumped around more than I should have. It’s definitely one of those things where, in retrospect, I’m not quite sure why I jumped around quite so much, but I left Unilever. I wanted to transfer Chicago. I mentioned earlier in the story that I had a fiancé. That fiancé was now an ex-fiancé, and despite New York being the size it is, it wasn’t really big enough for the two of us. I wanted to move to Chicago because he lived in Chicago and hated it, so I knew he would never move there. I went to Chicago and it was great. I wanted a city that had a lot of the benefits of New York but that was more affordable, more manageable, and you could have a car, have more space. I realized that the salary I was going to make in New York was the same salary I was going to make in Chicago, but the cost of living was so much less and this is how I was going to get further, faster.
I was going to transfer with Unilever, but they announced layoffs so any open positions were closed. At the same time, Pepsi was moving their Tropicana business up from Florida to merge it with the rest of their Quaker and Gatorade businesses. I interviewed there, went there, and I got to work for an amazing man by the name of Ben Brenton. He’s now the Chief Innovation Officer at Snap-on Tools. He’s been there for a long time, but Ben was amazing and is still one of the smartest people I know and has taught me pretty much everything I know about innovation, and that’s really where I found this passion for innovation and I realized I was quite well made for it. While I was at Pepsi, these CPG reworks all the time, so they reworked. They split off the juice business unit, the shelf stable from the refrigerated, and I went with shelf stable which was a much smaller business unit and that’s where I learned that I like smaller, better. I liked having the resources of a big company but I liked having direct access to senior leadership. In the beginning, I was reporting right to the VP of Marketing, and she reported in to the President of the Business Unit. I was contributing to the conversation, I was in the room when the decisions were made, I was hearing them, I was learning from it, and I had very direct access to senior leadership. Every time I had a big presentation, Albert Manzoni, the head of the business unit would swing by my desk afterwards and we’d recap it and that was amazing feedback for me to get. As an ABM, my passion for innovation really shone through, and I helped them build their innovation pipeline. I helped them work with a fantastic agency that’s still around to this day, called Consumer Eyes, Ron Rentel, out of New York, and really build our strategic spaces–I call them drill sites, but the places where these pockets of rich consumer insights and territories live, that you can mine them to come up with the unmet needs and then ideate new product ideas against them. I did that for that shelf stable business unit, and then after that, everything else paled in comparison. After taking this tiny business unit, getting a big chunk of money, and doing all that strategy work that I love doing, but here as an Assistant Brand Manager, after that, no, I don’t want to go back and run IRI data.
They promoted me to Brand Manager, but I was still unsettled, and that’s when Wrigley, at the time, came to me. The recruiter from Pepsi had left and gone to Wrigley and she said, “We’ve got this global role, it’s global innovation. It’s all upstream, fuzzy front end we call it, it’s traveling the world doing consumer research and coming up with the strategic platforms, the new product ideas, that’s what we need.” I was like, “Wow. This is far more interesting to me.”
Ken Kanara: That sounds like a terrible sell.
Cindy Karas Sherman: I wasn’t married at the time, and I thought, “You’re going to send me to Russia, China and Europe, and I’m going to fly business class? Sign me up.” And the Global Innovation Center was like an 8 minute drive from my house with free parking. Who wouldn’t take it? I do feel like, in retrospect, I probably should have spent more time at Pepsi. I was only there for a couple years and to this day, some of my best friends in the world are people that I met at Pepsi, and some of my favorite people that I’ve ever worked with–you’ve got the A-Team from PwC that worked on A&P, and then a lot of the folks that I worked with Pepsi. It’s a really, really nice alumni network from the old Quaker business. I did that, then wound up staying at Wrigley, transitioned to some other roles, but stayed at Wrigley for almost five years. I was there while Mars acquired them.
Ken Kanara: You even got to work on the Lifesavers brand, right?
Cindy Karas Sherman: I ran the Lifesavers brand…gummies, mints, and hard candy. I hadn’t really worked on, in brand management you have innovation and base, people call it usually, and base is running the business and innovation is coming up with the new products. I had fallen in love so much with this innovation that I hadn’t done base since with Whisk laundry detergent. I returned to base, if you will, and I ran the Lifesavers business, and it put me through the ringer. I learned a lot, I still have a lot of stories from that, it made me a better marketer, but it was not fun and there were a lot of tears shed. My husband had to talk me off the ledge quite a few times. I was trying to get pregnant, we were having a really hard time, and there was an opportunity for me to exit. It was the right time to go, so I was able to do that and then consult out on my own, control my own hours, and focus a little bit on starting a family, which worked.
Ken Kanara: That’s awesome. Then you did independent consulting for a little bit, and eventually went to Reynolds, which is in Lake Forest, where, oddly enough, where I was born.
Cindy Karas Sherman: Oh, really? It’s beautiful there. It’s very nice.
Ken Kanara: Yes, I was. It is. We didn’t live there, I was just born at Lake Forest Hospital.
Cindy Karas Sherman: Lake Forest Hospital, I’ve been there. I remember, I was consulting on my own, doing a lot of really interesting work for Kraft, some agencies, and Merrill, the footwear and outdoor wear company. Then, I got pregnant, which was amazing. My husband was at a startup and they were pivoting. He found out he was going to expire, if you will, there, and it was like, “Oh my God, one of us needs a job with benefits. We can’t both be consulting.” So I started putting my resume out there and a friend of mine, Robin Weiner, who is amazing, said, “Wow…”
Ken Kanara: I love how you remember all these people. I’m serious, that’s so important. I can tell that’s a lot about who you are. That’s really cool.
Cindy Karas Sherman: Well, I owe her a text back. This week was her birthday and I texted her, she said “How are you?,” but I haven’t answered, but then I’m going to say, “I just mentioned you on a podcast!”
Ken Kanara: A lot of people don’t keep in touch or even remember people. I’m a big believer that we don’t do this on our own.
Cindy Karas Sherman: I want to remember the people who matter and everyone I’ve mentioned today, they are all people who matter.
Ken Kanara: Yes, that’s awesome. We’re going to tag all of them.
Cindy Karas Sherman: Awesome. Robin was like, “I hear you’re looking. How could I convince you to take this job?” I was probably a little overqualified for it, and I said, “Would you hire a pregnant woman?” She said, “If it’s you, yes!” So she hired me, I was four months pregnant, and kudos to her. I’m assuming her boss knew, but they were great. Reynolds was fantastic about it. I worked there for five months, then went out on maternity leave, took a three-month maternity leave, came back and really worked on helping to bring Reynolds into new categories. We were trying to think beyond Reynolds Wrap and Hefty trash bags, but trying to bring those equities into new and different spaces.
I worked for Robin and she was fantastic. I worked for a man named Sean Foster, who I think is still there, and to this day Sean is one of the most courageous leaders. I loved him because he really didn’t play the game. He didn’t care what people thought and he wasn’t afraid to put a provocative opinion out there. He definitely taught me that there’s a way to do that, it’s okay to do that, it’s okay to challenge that, and to have a differing opinion, coming from some organizations that were very alignment and consensus-focused, and that was a breath of fresh air for me.
At Reynolds, I remember Sean called me into his office and he’s like, “Great news, we’re promoting you to Director!,” which had been a long time coming, and I was like, “I can’t take it, we’re moving to Seattle!” My husband had been offered a job he couldn’t turn down with Amazon. I wanted to support him.
Ken Kanara: Good timing to be part of Amazon, too.
Cindy Karas Sherman: Yeah, it was a good time to be part of Amazon. We moved to Seattle and that was, I call it, my second tour of duty on the West Coast. I wound up at Starbucks. A little company, you probably haven’t heard of it.
Ken Kanara: I think I’ve heard of it. They might have some brand cachet.
Cindy Karas Sherman: I went to Starbucks, and I went to work on their espresso business, on innovation, which was really fun. Espresso is like a $2 billion business, or something like that–espresso alone. This was going to be innovation, so what’s the next Pumpkin Spice Latte? I got to work with a man named Peter Dukes, who is the father of the Pumpkin Spice Latte, and he ran that business really tight.
Ken Kanara: Really? Peter Dukes is the father of pumpkin spice?
Cindy Karas Sherman: Yes, Peter Dukes is the father of Pumpkin Spice Latte. I did that for a couple months and then they were like, “Just kidding, we’re reworking.” I was like “Oh my God, are you kidding me? I just like turned down a Director role, I moved across the country, I loved the team. Talk about an A-Team, this was an amazing a team. Ryan Elvers, Laura Gallagher, John Moore, Laura Chin, just some really, really fantastic marketers and business people. They dissolved all of us. Peter was a team builder. He coached all of his kids sports teams and he had created the absolute right team and then they dissolved it right in front of his eyes.
I ended up on the tea business and here I was back and running a brand again, like I did in Lifesavers and Whisk. I ran the $500 million hot tea business, all the Chai and the tea for Starbucks. I did that for about a year, it was pretty intense, and then I was pregnant again. I was like, I can’t work until 9:00 o’clock at night, every night and I was able to move into doing global innovation for the packaged coffee business. The funny thing is that then, that business, six months later, reworked and became part of the CPG business. The whole reason I went to Starbucks is because I wanted to do something more experiential. I want to do something where you had more than a product, in a package, on a shelf, and you were really creating an experience for somebody. I felt within the retail format of Starbucks you’d be able to do that and then here I was like, “Oh, we’re going to sell coffee on the shelf in the grocery store.”
Ken Kanara: Oh, wow. Okay, full circle, right?
Cindy Karas Sherman: But it was fun. I really enjoyed it, and after working on the tea business, which had not been an easy year, it was nice to bring a lot of my CPG knowhow to the team around me. I had some great leadership over on the Starbucks CPG side, which is now Nestlé acquired. There’s a joint venture that happened right after I left, but you know, it was a good time and it was great. I had two kids, it was very manageable. I knew what I was doing. It was funny because when I got to Starbucks I remember thinking, “Starbucks they’ve got to have it all figured out.” Every company I’ve ever gone to I’ve thought they’ve got to have it all figured out and then you get there and you’re like, “no they don’t.”
Ken Kanara: No one’s got it figured out.
Cindy Karas Sherman: At Starbucks I introduce the same thing that I had done in shelf stable juices for Pepsi, and then at Wrigley, it was global platforms, let’s think about platforms. Let’s think about these larger spaces, these drill sites with consumer insights, and unmet needs, and let’s figure out what the areas are that we want to mine. What’s next generation flavored coffee? What is functional coffee going to look like? I think we had fun names like Double Duty was the functional coffees that caffeinate you but give you other functional benefits and things like that. Then, with a fantastic little team, me and a great R&D person, and a great Consumer Insights person, populated that with new product ideas. Then we worked with BASES, did some BASES Idea Statement Testing, and we were able to see what rose to the top, then we prioritize those initiatives and it was really fun. To this day I will see things launched and I’m like, “Oh my God, that was one of our idea babies!” My big project there was Starbucks Plus Coffee with twice the caffeine in K cups. I worked on the launch of that with a great team. We then built out the whole functional pipeline which later launched Starbucks with turmeric, Starbucks with antioxidants, and things like that.
Ken Kanara: It’s interesting how the ideation phase…just the pipeline to get to go to market, because obviously there’s a lot of stuff required before because you’re just starting to see those products being prevalent now.
Cindy Karas Sherman: Yes. You’ve got to be ahead. Think about all the R&D work to get to a formulation with a coffee that tastes good with these functional benefits. It can take years to figure that out, so you really have to be ahead of the trends, be talking to people on leading edge markets versus more mainstream markets to figure that out.
Ken Kanara: That’s cool. Believe it or not, the last two episodes we aired, not intentionally, were focused on coffee. One was the CEO of Chamberlain Coffee, which is basically a Gen Z brand, and the other was a coffee distributor who brought coffee to retailers, but I digress. That was Starbucks, then did you go directly to Freida’s?
Cindy Karas Sherman: Yes, I was at Starbucks, I’d been there for four years, and I got some very good advice from someone that I will keep anonymous, and he said to me, “You work at all these big companies. You have such a big heart, you love to roll up your sleeves, you love to make an impact, and that is getting lost to these really large organizations where it’s PowerPoint deck after PowerPoint deck, and you’re just aligning, aligning, aligning, aligning, that by the time you get to the final alignment, A) it’s been nine months and B) your idea is completely watered down. I think you would do much better in a middle market company. Go in somewhere at a senior level. Go in somewhere as the number one or number two marketer but where everyone can see the passion that you bring to the table.” That was one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received. I started looking and Freida’s, we call it Freida’s Branded Produce, at the time it was Freida’s Specialty Produce. I went on LinkedIn and I talked to my husband and he’s like, “Look, we moved to Seattle for my job. The next move is for you. I’m not going to go live in the middle of nowhere, it’s got to be somewhere we want to live, but I’m open.” My oldest was now about to start kindergarten, and I went on LinkedIn and removed the geographic filters and this Head of Marketing for Freida’s came up. I thought it was interesting, so I went on their website. I thought the brand was cool. I thought it had a ton of potential. I wasn’t familiar with it and I learned the story of Freida’s, which is amazing.
We were founded in 1962 by Freida, who passed away a few years ago, but she was still here and coming to work four days a week when I started, and she founded Freida’s on the LA produce market. Talk about a man’s world. That was such a man’s world and she totally broke the glass ceiling of that man’s world. Her claim to fame is the Kiwi. She introduced the Kiwi to America.
Ken Kanara: You’re kidding!
Cindy Karas Sherman: The legend is that a shopper had been vacationing in New Zealand, went to the grocery store and said, “Hey, I have these fabulous Chinese gooseberries, can you get it for me?” They said, “Let me let my buyer know,” and then the buyer was walking the LA produce market and Freida had a conversation with the buyer and said, “I’m going to get that for you.” She figured out how to import it, she renamed it the Kiwi, and rest is history.
Ken Kanara: That is so cool!
Cindy Karas Sherman: It’s such an amazing story. She did that, she ran the business probably for 20 years, something like that, 30 years, and then her daughters got involved in the business when they graduated from college. Her daughters ultimately bought the business from her and today they run it Karen Kaplan is our President and CEO, and Jackie Kaplan Wiggins is our Chief Administrative Officer. Karen is my boss. I report right into her and run marketing innovation and insights for her. The brand had so much potential. When I got to Freida’s, we talked a lot about the strength of the brand and how could we get more consumers in the know? We were still selling a lot of produce, bulk and packaged, and how do we make sure that our brand comes shining through more, how do we have more packaged items, and how do we have more UPC items, because if you have a UPC you can measure your sales. We’re able to access IRI data and show that our products sell better than the competition, package that up and create really compelling selling stories with that.
That’s been part of what we did. We did new graphics, and again, did all my work of, “What are the brand equities? What are consumers really thinking about when they interact with our packaging?? A lot of it’s about trying new produce. A third of consumers will admit that they are afraid to try a new fruit or vegetable because they don’t know what to do with it. But 48% of people will tell you that friendly, approachable branding helps them overcome that. You have to assume that a third of people are admitting that, so there are probably a lot more people who feel that way that just aren’t willing to admit that in a survey. We were able to introduce things like Rhombus Rambutan, Stokes Purple Sweet Potatoes, Honey Dragons Dragon Fruit, Fire Dragons Dragon Fruit, and Quick Fire Shishito Peppers, and, looking at my list, organic Mighty Gold Turmeric, Mahana Ginger, and Tikis Drinking Coconuts. How do you take things that feel left of center? We don’t sell apples, oranges, and bananas, we sell this more unique produce, but we try and create an experience around it like I was trying to do at Starbucks, and name it something that makes it approachable, use our bright colors, and fun brand assets to really make someone feel comfortable to try it.
Ken Kanara: That’s so cool. Do you feel like, at least from my interpretation, do you all lean into the healthy aspect of it? Is that different from some of the work you had done in the past or am I mischaracterizing that?
Cindy Karas Sherman: One of the reasons why I was so excited to come here is that center store is shrinking. If you work on something that goes into the center store at the grocery store, you’re always going to be fighting the battle that you’re category is losing shelf space and how do you justify that? When you go the perimeter, in the grocery store, if you haven’t noticed, the center is shrinking and the outside is growing. There’s more and more of a focus on fresh fruits. The pandemic was a little bit of a reset on that. People returned to center store and categories that hadn’t seen growth in decades were all of a sudden growing again, but you have to assume that that’s not going to continue for the next ten years.
Ken Kanara: Yeah, we were all eating very, very poorly during the pandemic at home.
Cindy Karas Sherman: Canned soup and Beef-a-Roni, whatever it is, but it’s in produce that you have tailwinds, which is people are expanding the space. They want to devote more and more to produce, other brands want to co-promote with produce, they want to find produce in other areas stores, and things like that. You’re not quite fighting the battle of shrinking center store because of the health benefits and because you can lean into that. For that reason, I was very excited to switch categories.
Ken Kanara: That’s awesome and this fits very squarely in brand strategy, innovation, and experience because of the products you just named, I think shishitos were the only ones that I could admit to actually trying.
Cindy Karas Sherman: Ken, you give me your address after this and I’m going to send you a super fun box and you’re going to try all kinds of amazing things and you’re going to let me know what you love.
Ken Kanara: Oh I’m excited that you’re going to do that because I will, because my wife will make me. I admit to being one of those consumers funnily enough. I know I like spinach, I know I like this, I know I like that, and I don’t have a lot of play outside of that. I didn’t know I like Brussels sprouts until I was in my 30s.
Cindy Karas Sherman: We’re going to get you there. That’s because nobody knew how to cook Brussels sprouts until you were in your thirties. Steamed Brussels sprouts in the microwave is pretty gross, but when you cook them with some olive oil on a sheet pan or in an air fryer and get them nice and crispy with some kosher sea salt…
Ken Kanara: That’s true, and that’s going to have tomorrow night, actually. Okay, so then if you talk about the brand essence, if I’m using the right terminology for Freida’s, how would you describe that?
Cindy Karas Sherman: Oh, great question. At Freida’s, we’re all about colorful, healthy and delicious. We want to bring more variety to the plate, so we are all about these colorful, healthy, and delicious eating experiences and trying new things, and trying new things with friends and family and other people that you love. I think that’s really what we’re all about, is how do you create an eating experience, and one that’s fueled by produce? I’d say, for example, one of the innovations that we’ve launched recently that I am very excited about, and my little innovation baby, is shishito kits. We took shishitos peppers, which she said you’re familiar with, and we paired them with seasoning packets. All of a sudden, because I don’t know about you, but I’m always like, “What vegetable? You have to eat vegetables, right? Alright, Monday we’re going to broccoli, then we’re going to asparagus, then maybe we’re going to have mushrooms, what’s left?” Shishito peppers are a great vegetable side dish. We’ve got sesame soy, garlic herb, and the garlic herb comes with a packet of pink Himalayan sea salt, so it’s so delicious. You just stir fry these up in the pan, mix it with the seasoning and there you go. There’s your veggie side dish that you can pair with pretty much anything. Kroger has those shishito kits now, we are expanding to other retailers, but that’s one of the things I am most excited about that I’ve worked on here that we’ve seen be an instance runaway success.
Ken Kanara: That’s really cool. Also, thanks for sharing the initial story of how the company was founded, and the Kiwi story. I feel like this has been such an education for me today.
Cindy Karas Sherman: And I love the family. The family is amazing. They actually have a documentary that was made about them that’s called, Fear No Fruit. You can find it on the Freida’s website. You can watch it for free, but it’s this amazing story of how these women, this matriarch-led company has changed the way America eats. It’s amazing story about some really, really great, loving company.
Ken Kanara: That’s awesome. I can tell you’re very passionate about it and the brand. The other thing that I picked up on that I didn’t know before we chatted is, getting back to how people find careers and stuff like that, it seemed like almost every other job that you had it came through a recruiter reaching out to you, or you knew somebody that was tapping you on the shoulder to bring you along. I think it’s very interesting because even when we are senior in our careers, we can still find stuff on our own. I think it’s so cool that you were just doing your own research and found Freida’s on your own.
I think it’s something that folks are, not intimidated, or I don’t think it’s lazy to do, but I feel like it’s a very viable option, no matter what stage of your career or life you’re at.
Cindy Karas Sherman: Yes, I think so too. If you wait for people to tap you, you’ll never know what else was out there. The other part that I didn’t get to talk about is I feel like one of the other things I did was really bring us to the into the 2020s in terms of our digital footprint. When I got here we did a lot more marketing to our buyers, but really having a much more balanced approach. You’ve got to push it onto the shelf, and then we’ve got to make sure that consumers come and pull it off the shelf. Both online and in stores. I think that’s the other big piece of what I’ve done. It’s been really fun. It’s been a great ride. I feel good about what I’ve done, every day. I feel good about the team that helps me do it. I’ve got some great people who work for me, and with me, and it’s been a lot of fun
Ken Kanara: That’s awesome. Thanks for sharing your energy and your story with us. To wrap things up, a lot of our audience is either they’re sitting in consulting thinking about that first role of they’re on their first or second job post-consulting. What advice would you give to them?
Cindy Karas Sherman: My clear advice to people who are earlier in their career and starting out, as much as I love working in a small company, and I found that that was for me, if you go somewhere big you will get a broader view. You will get a broader perspective. You will get to see multiple brands. You will get to see multiple functions. You will get to see more stuff done and get that experience, which will be very valuable to both big companies and small, and then later on, you can figure out, like me with innovation, was there a particular area that I found to be very sticky, and you can gravitate towards that. But keep your base broad at the beginning. You can always narrow that down later on. That is one of the big things and it’s not to say you can’t start small and be very successful, but what I have found is when people start small, a lot of times they think the grass is greener. They wonder what it would be like if they were somewhere bigger and so they sometimes only stay small for a couple years and then try and use that experience to go bigger. Start in a broader role at a broader organization. More is more–SOMETIMES, when you’re starting out, because it’s going to give you that 30,000 foot view that you’re going to be able to utilize the rest of your career.
Ken Kanara: Do you feel like, okay, so you start out broad, then you go to a middle market company, what advice do you have for someone like that, that’s so used to all the resources at their disposal at a larger company and is now like in an environment where they don’t have a ten person team, it’s just them and someone else. What advice would you have for them?
Cindy Karas Sherman: It’s, look carefully at yourself and know what motivates you and prioritize those things. like I’d say for me, what motivated me is I definitely wanted to take more of a leadership role. I went in from being a middle management marketer to the Head Marketer. Basically, the CMO. I knew that wanting to leave motivated me, but I also knew that rolling up my sleeves and doing the work myself as long as I can get in there and make an impact I knew, that I actually enjoyed that too.
Let’s say I was the kind of person where I wanted to leave but I knew that I wasn’t really motivated by rolling up my sleeves, but if I had found myself in a smaller company and all of a sudden there was work that I was used to other people doing and now I was going to have to do it myself. Ultimately, I would have burned down. It’s understanding what motivates you as clearly and crisply as possible, then really understanding that in priority order so that you’re making the decisions that are right for you.
Ken Kanara: Awesome. I think that’s really good advice. Cindy, this has been such a fun time to talk to you. I’ve learned more about brand strategy and innovation than I think I…way more than I knew an hour ago. Lastly, to wrap it up, if folks wanted to learn more about Freida’s or yourself? Is there any information you’d like to share that we can drop it in the podcast description?
Cindy Karas Sherman: Sure thing. Www.freidas.com, we’re branded produce. Definitely come to our website to check out what we sell. To connect with me, LinkedIn is a great way. I always love hearing from people, I like meeting new people, and expanding my network, so I would love to do that. In preparation for this conversation, it’s been a while since I worked in consulting, and I went back and I really thought through what it is that I worked on and what benefits it really give me. What I would say is that one of those things that I feel really comfortable in is strategy. It’s definitely something that you know, if you’re trying to somebody who’s worked with me and asked, “What is Cindy really well known for?” Strategy would come to the top of the conversation, and I do owe that to consulting. I really do. That 30,000 foot view, working on leadership team initiatives, and understanding what a company strategy is going to be and how they’re going to get there, I bring that with me to work every day. Thank you to my good friends at PwC–Kari LePage, Amy Miller Thompson, and the rest of the team there for helping to teach me that because it is paying dividends throughout my career.
Ken Kanara: The A-Team. That’s awesome. I appreciate you sharing that. That’s really cool and I think my big take away, too, is it’s more confirmation in what I believe is that we don’t get to where we are on our own. I think it’s really cool all the people that you talked about, too. We’ll be sure to mention them. Thanks so much for joining us, Cindy. For those of you listening for the first time, make sure to hit subscribe on Spotify, Apple, Google, or Amazon now. We’re on all those different platforms. If you want to catch transcripts of past episodes you can go to beyondconsulting.info. If you want to get in touch with me or anyone else at my firm, it’s going to be eca-partners.com. Until next week, Cindy, thanks so much, it’s been a pleasure.
Cindy Karas Sherman: It’s been awesome! I really enjoyed this. Thank you so much, Ken.
Ken Kanara: You bet.